Panel Blueprint Seeks To Relate School to Work
WASHINGTON--Wholesale changes in teacher education, in-service training, and student assessments are key ingredients in a long-overdue transformation of the nation's schools, a Labor Department commission on workers' skill deficiencies urged last week.
Government and education officials at all levels should make teaching more engaging and active and reinforce that focus with a new generation of tests, according to the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, which issued its final report after two years of study.
"The education reforms of the 1980's demonstrated that it is futile to try to wring high performance from schools by doing more of the same,'' argues the report, "Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance.''
The report calls for a new classroom approach that stresses realistic problemsolving; teamwork that extends beyond school grounds; teacher and student interaction on projects, grading, and planning; and teachers cast as team leaders and guides rather than lecturers armed with all the answers.
In presenting the final report, top officials said its recommendations show clearly that business leaders, politicians, and many educators are seeking a new route to school reform.
"The problem is that we keep talking about this darned issue and nothing seems to change,'' said former Secretary of Labor William E. Brock, the chairman of the SCANS panel. "We've added money to education and teacher salaries and nothing has changed. The fact is, your school is in trouble, and I don't care where you live.''
"We have said that all children can learn, but somebody's got to do something different to show that,'' added Don R. Roberts, the superintendent of the Fort Worth school district, which has initiated changes that mirror the SCANS recommendations.
"This material can be used by every teacher in every circumstance to make education real,'' Mr. Roberts said. "You will see teachers and students acting differently.''
Path to Implementation
The commission last year unveiled its own definition of modern know-how, including five competency areas--defined as the productive use of resources, interpersonal skills, information, systems, and technology--built on a foundation of basic thinking skills and well-developed personal qualities. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)
Since then, the panel has added another volume defining how its core skills are used in 50 different jobs and how they can be taught in schools. Last week's final report was aimed at describing the path schools and industry alike will have to take to implement the commission's reforms, officials said.
The commission urged that school reforms be initiated through sweeping changes in teacher-education and staff-development programs that would introduce school employees to a new style of learning. The panel also proposed that existing state and local funds, along with the energy and resources of schools of education, be redirected.
"Providing training opportunities for instructional staff will be costly,'' the report notes, "especially to give teachers and administrators the time they need during the school day and summers for training.''
Such a strategy is essential, however, "to develop new pedagogical skills required to teach in context and to develop active, collaborative, learning environments; to learn new instructional management skills and use new instructional technologies that support new ways of interacting with students; and to gain experience with the principles of high performance as applied in restructured workplaces,'' the report adds.
The commission has also worked to have its ideas incorporated in a host of new assessment and standards projects currently under way. The National Council on Education Standards and Testing has endorsed the skills and stated that they should be integrated into national standards and assessments.
In addition, the SCANS panel is pushing to have its categories of skills highlighted in standards projects being developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Science Teachers Association.
Beyond inclusion in the national debate, the panel has also recommended a separate, SCANS-based competency test for middle- and high-school students that would be part of a "cumulative resume'' showing students' coursework, extracurricular activities, and assessment grades.
The tests would be required for 10th graders in order to earn a Certificate of Initial Mastery, the skills and basic-education certificate called for in 1990 by the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.
'Not One Moment Too Soon''
Education organizations last week generally praised the SCANS commission's work.
Keith Geiger, the president of the National Education Association, said the panel's work will "help educators in their efforts to transform schools into places where students are empowered and prepared for success.''
The recommendations come "not one moment too soon,'' said Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Both of the teachers' unions had representatives on the 31-member panel. Other educators included school-board members from Alabama and Texas; administrators from California and Michigan; Lauren B. Resnick, the director of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh; and Dale Parnell, the former president of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
Education advocates said they welcomed the report's focus on improving student performance.
"The SCANS report provides an invaluable framework for rethinking curriculum and assessment,'' said Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Focus Too Narrow?
But some educators also cautioned against embracing the panel's work without reservations.
Arlene R. Penfield, the president of the National School Boards Association, said that while it is important to strengthen the connection between school and work, the report should not narrow educators' focus.
"A child's education must prepare him or her for a host of life-enriching events and activities, and work, while an extremely important aspect, is, by definition, a subset of life,'' Ms. Penfield said. "The report, for instance, goes too far in recommending that writing be reoriented from an 'academic' to a 'real world' focus. The ability to communicate well through writing is a staple of our culture and society. We owe it to our students not to cut corners at the formative stages.''
Although she described the commission's work as potentially beneficial, Ms. Penfield faulted the panel for appearing to ignore education's wide-ranging role.
"The utility of the SCANS methodology for schools is in helping them apply the experiences of the working world to learning in ways that could help students later on,'' she said. "The concept of a system where student advancement in life depends on how well they perform against workplace measures is shortsighted and ignores the abundancy and reach of education.''
Anticipating such criticism, however, commission officials noted that their work is not meant to replace schools' curricula or goals.
"The commission understands that preparation for work is only part of the mission of schools, and that school is only part of the learning process,'' the report says.
"We're not going to abolish the curriculum,'' Mr. Brock added.
"We're saying teach it in a different way. Business hasn't communicated
to educators what we want. That's what we're doing here.''